Leveraging cross-project collaboration to promote short food supply chains within the food system
Authors: Caspar Winkelmeyer (University of Hohenheim), Leonardo Improta (ICONS)
COREnet and EU4Advice are the first projects funded under Horizon Europe aiming at establishing an advisory network on short food supply chains (SFSC), which will be established through the collaboration of both projects.
Knowledge sharing event brings together European projects, platforms, and stakeholders
On October 25, the two European-funded twin projects COREnet and EU4Advice co-organized and hosted a knowledge sharing event among sister projects and advisors from the field of sustainable food systems. Within the capacities of the Belgium national library in Brussels, the event brought together representatives of 25 European-funded projects, digital food systems-related platforms, European project and policy officers, advisors and external stakeholders who understand the relevance of joining forces for establishing advisory networks to transform the EU food system.
In three dedicated sessions, participants of the event were able to discuss and contribute to finding solutions to the challenges of integrating advisors into AKIS, ensuring longevity of digital knowledge platforms, as well as maximizing impact through replicating and exploiting project results.
Each session was introduced by a keynote speaker setting the scene and putting the specific challenge into a sectoral context followed by an expert panel of representatives from different thematically related European projects and platforms.
Patricia Mora, coordinator of EU4Advice and her team from Innogestiona Ambiental shared their thoughts about the event:
“The networking day was a fruitful event for EU4Advice and COREnet partners to share a common vision on the current available and upcoming relevant resources for the creation of the EU network of short food supply chain advisors, and its integration into the AKIS system.”
Session 1: Harnessing the power of networks and incentives to enhance SFSC advisor engagement
To address current and future needs of the agri-food sector, there is a need for a common, dynamic, and evolving advisory network that facilitates easy identification and collaboration among advisors across different regions and fields of expertise. In recent years, the role of short food supply chains (SFSC) advisors has gained increasing prominence in fostering agricultural sustainability. However, integrating these advisors into broader Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems (AKIS) has been a challenge, often due to a lack of recognition, incentives, and sustainable engagement strategies. A crucial step in achieving integration is recognizing SFSC advisors as a distinct group within the agricultural community. Traditionally, SFSC advice has been considered a marginal area, but its growing significance for securing local and regional food security calls for greater recognition and support at national and EU level. Incentives for SFSC advisors to engage with AKIS networks and share their experiences are also crucial for fostering collaboration and innovation. Financial incentives, while important, should not be the sole focus. Understanding the values and motivations of both farmers and advisors can help identify non-economic incentives that can drive engagement.
Session 2: Fostering interoperability and overcoming barriers of digital platforms
Over the years, various platforms dedicated to strengthening the European agricultural sector have emerged, each with its unique strengths and focus. While these platforms serve valuable purposes, such as supporting agricultural actors, providing knowledge repositories with valuable learning and training resources, there is a growing need for enhanced interoperability to ensure seamless collaboration and knowledge sharing across different projects and initiatives.
Two key challenges of achieving interoperability are overcoming language barriers and making sure that data formats adhere to a common standard. Language plays a critical role in effective communication, knowledge transfer and ultimately advisory services. Ensuring that content is readily available in multiple languages and easy to understand for reaching the desired audiences, regardless of their native tongue is a key concern when it comes to maximizing the impact of project results.
Session 3: Collaboration and co-creation: key drivers of innovation and impact in the EU food system
The third session demonstrated the importance of collaboration between projects to preserve and expand upon knowledge generated by past projects. Collaboration and co-creation strengthen relationships between actors, build trust, and pool knowledge to solve complex food system challenges together. While competition can be a driving force, it can also stifle innovation processes by withholding information and resources. The panelists presented various examples of successful collaboration within their projects, such as: Co-creating and implementing innovations along fruits and vegetable value chains, connecting researchers and practitioners through cross-visits, or implementing hybrid forums to stimulate dialogue among different actors.
COREnet and EU4Advice projects meet in Leuven to coordinate efforts and share best practices
On the 26th and 27th of November, both the COREnet and EU4Advice projects met in Leuven, Belgium. On the morning of the 26th, both projects held separate discussions to share updates on their respective project progress, challenges, and next steps. Subsequently, they coordinated their efforts for achieving common goals and obligations. Fedele Colantuono, representing the COREnet management team, was very pleased with the results of the event. He stated:
“The General Assembly was a valuable opportunity to gather all partners together to discuss the steps and challenges to address for the project implementation in the coming months. I appreciated the interaction between the two project teams during the joint General Assembly, which led to the identification of new synergies for working together on common tasks and initiatives. This will ensure a wider impact across EU countries for the development of the SFSC advisors network.
With the overarching goal of pursuing this enduring initiative, four working groups were formed to delineate the forthcoming challenges and outline the commitments associated with each of the thematic areas guiding their efforts.
On the third and last day, EU4Advice and COREnet went on a field visit engaging with both producers and their advisors, offering a unique opportunity to unravel the various dimensions and nuances of the connection between SFSC advising and the performance/impact of SFSC. The field visit was organized by Boerenbond & Taskforce Korte Keten to Ijshoeve De Boey, a local producer in Antwerp, Belgium, known for delicious ice cream, dairy, and sweets. The farm is distinctive for offering unique products derived from A2A2 milk, sourced directly from their cows, ensuring superior taste and health benefits while exemplifying a noteworthy case of a short food supply chain.
After an inspiring and enriching discussion about the advisory journey of this family-run business, the dialogue moved to Kaas Baas, a mobile cheese maker from the Netherlands. The SFSC model empowers dairy farmers to directly sell their cheese to consumers without the need for substantial investments and time in cheese production. Kaas Baas, operating a mobile cheese-making facility, provides cheese-making services to these farmers. The cheese is crafted on the farm using milk supplied by the dairy farmer, and the maturation process occurs either on the farm or at the Kaas Baas warehouse. The matured cheese is then returned to the farm for the subsequent round of cheese making.
As Fedele specified:
“This was the first COREnet field visit. It was a great opportunity to directly experience the reality, functioning, and history behind two SFSC good practices nominated as Golden Cases. We gained valuable insights from both farmers and advisors into the efforts and keys for success in SFSC.”
Both farmers were recently interviewed for a journalistic article released by the COREnet project, detailing their SFSC advisory journey and highlighting the benefits they gained from the services and support provided by their advisors.